I go hunting at a duck club about an hour east of our San Francisco office, and last season when I aimed and shot at a Mallard, I had an inspiration. I realized why people have a hard time understanding business leaders – even if they really want to.
This all came to me in that post-trigger moment of suspense. I like a clean kill, and while I was waiting to see if I got it, this insight came to me. I think it can help you make your meetings a thousand times more effective.
You already understand why this insight came to me like that. Leadership and hunting have a lot in common. It’s a similar state of mind. When you’re hunting, you can’t think in words. You can’t be certain of anything. And you have to act right now – or you’ll miss. When I aimed that shot my mind must have been, on some level, doing the math. But for me, in the moment, my experience was just a feeling. I saw the target, and from then on, I just performed.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink calls that “flow,” and when your mind is open like that all sorts of things can “flow” through it, including ideas that have nothing to do with the task at hand – but that might be, in many ways, more important.
How to Lie in Wait
Leaders spend more time “in the flow” than most people, and when they’re in it, they’re sort of like a hunter setting up a shot. No words. No certainty. No hesitation. I saw an interview with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, and when he was asked how to run a meeting he said, “Listen more. Talk less. And be decisive when the time comes.”
Good advice. Let’s say you’ve mastered it. You’re running your meeting and you have a great ability to absorb all sorts of input. That means a lot of listening. Sort of like sitting in a duck blind waiting for your opportunity. You’re absorbing the lay of the land, the flow of the air, the sounds of the birds and other animals. All of it fills you so that when the moment comes, your aim is true.
In a corporate meeting, it’s a good idea to realize that when you’re decisive, it’s like taking a shot. You’ve got the idea; it’s all snapped together in your mind, and you’re ready to give direction. Boom. There it goes. You simplify and clarify, hopefully without hurting anyone’s feelings, and then you lay out your decision. Just as Nadella says, you give instructions, you give encouragement, and after that, you’re ready to move on to the next thing.
Now, here’s the part that came to me while I was watching to see if I hit my duck. Everything we’ve been talking about so far is from the executive’s point of view. It all snaps together in your mind. You fire your shot.
The problem is that your decision might just fly right past someone without registering. It should be easy for you to think of a time when you know that’s what happened. Let’s say, for example, you’re talking about production, you’re in the flow, and suddenly the solution to a bottleneck occurs to you.
You describe the solution precisely and exactly, right there in the meeting. At first, you think you communicated. Only, you were so precise and exact, your entire idea came out in 30 words. Three sentences. Seven seconds. You said it, so it’s out there. But in reality, you didn’t communicate at all.
How to Shoot
This is why people have a hard time understanding business leaders. There’s a disconnect between the way a leader thinks and the way others think. Leaders take the shot. If they tried to explain the shot, they’d never get anywhere. Words are too slow.
But on the other hand, if you don’t slow down and put it into words, you’re not really leading.
So think about what it’s like to hear your decisions. You employee can feel inspired and excited and totally committed. But the particulars....well, she wasn’t really following that, and certainly not at bullet-speed. When your 30-word “how-to” whizzed past, she got the gist. But that’s it.
That’s where miscommunication happens. I’ve seen it get worse from there because the employee doesn’t want to ask a question. She’s afraid it will seem like she’s not “in the flow.” She expects she can figure it out. Only thing is that, later on, she remembers even less, and she can’t really execute very well at all – no matter how bad she wants to.
It’s a disconnect all around. You didn’t mean to confuse her; you really appreciate her desire to flow with you; and you want her to succeed. She’s with you. She get’s it. She wants to contribute, and she’ll do her best. Except, she missed the 30-words.
From a leadership perspective, the best solution has to keep you in the flow. It should invite everyone on your team to get into the flow. Your growth as a company is not dictated by you; it’s all about how well you can teach your people to shoot. You have to inspire to lead, and that happens in the flow, too.
But then, from a business perspective, the best solution will capture every one of those “30-words.” You’ll capture instructions, decisions, insights and everything else – from everyone. Let the flow happen and get it down so your people can act.
You need both. Now, I know there are animal lovers reading this, so I apologize. But I got my Mallard as well as the idea for this article. That’s just the way it works.